Details of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s $82,000 spending spree at NFL games remain a mystery – despite a release of expense account receipts by the governor’s office.
Receipts for Christie’s purchases at New York Giants and Jets home games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons are missing from 597 pages of receipts New Jersey Watchdog obtained through an Open Public Records Act request.
The governor’s office does not have documentation for more than $247,000 in expenses – two-thirds of the $360,000 Christie has spent from his state expense allowance since he took office in 2010, according to a New Jersey Watchdog analysis.
“We have produced to you all of the receipts/invoices/bills that we located,” stated Heather Taylor, the governor’s records custodian and chief ethics officer. “We are not withholding any records based on an OPRA exemption.”
“Every dollar of expenses associated with the discretionary fund has been tracked and accounted for in full,” added Kevin Roberts, Christie’s press secretary, in a prepared statement .
As New Jersey Watchdog previously revealed , Christie’s debit card was used 58 times during the 2010 and 2011 seasons to charge $82,594 to Delaware North Sportservice, operator of the food and beverage concessions at MetLife Stadium. The expenses did not include his free use of luxury boxes, traditionally available to governors at the state-owned venue.
To avoid embarrassment, Christie turned to the New Jersey Republican Committee. The committee reimbursed the state in early 2012 for Christie’s bills at MetLife, plus additional charges the governor racked up at Izod Center. Since then, he has refrained from using his expense account at sporting venues.
Following the New Jersey Watchdog report, other news outlets publicly speculated on how Christie used the funds from his expense allowance of up to $95,000 a year, which he receives in addition to his $175,000 annual salary.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch calculated the governor could have bought 7,455 hot dog and beer combinations at MetLife, compared to 9,371 brew and wiener combos for lower prices at the Rams’ home field in Missouri.
Newsweek figured Christie’s concessions splurge – nearly 1.5 times New Jersey’s per capita annual gross domestic product – would be enough to buy 13,755 hot dogs or 6,882 brisket sandwiches or 16,518 12-ounce cans of beer at $5 a pop.
While on the campaign trail in New Hampshire last month, Christie told reporters those expenses were business-related.
“We have people from both parties, from different interest groups across the state who come to the football games to sit and have private time with me and conversations and so I think it’s completely justifiable to use the discretionary fund,” said Christie, as quoted by NorthJersey.com.
“The discretionary fund is used for official and not personal purposes, including costs associated with official hosting and reception, as well as events and upkeep at Drumthwacket, the official residence,” said Roberts.
However, the business purposes of the governor’s overall expenses are generally unclear in the receipts provided by the governor’s office.
Invoices for event catering, tent rentals and printers occasionally mention specific functions, such as holiday parties at the governor’s mansion.
However, few receipts for other grocery and beverage expenses – which include $76,373 at Wegmans Food Markets, $11,971 at ShopRite food stores and $6,536 at ShopRite’s liquor shops – mention specific events or official purposes.
The records, as currently kept or not kept by Christie’s office, would run afoul of reform legislation proposed by Assemblymen Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, and Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic.
“New Jersey taxpayers have every right to know where their hard-earned money goes,” said Mazzeo. “Any governor who makes a responsible and appropriate use of this expense account should have no objection to complying with what’s required under this bill.”
If enacted, Assembly Bill 4424 would require the governor to disclose expenses with receipts in an annual report to be posted on the State Ethics Commission web site.